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A Winemaker’s Request: Please Don’t Sell Solely on Scores

Before we left California, I did one final sales trip for my previous winery.  It was a week long and we were really doing well in the market.  People loved the wines.  They commented on the flavors and the value.  They were impressed with the work, care, and dedication that went into making each blend once I was able to describe each step of our winemaking and blending process.  I even heard sales people that were working beside me starting to adopt the story of the wines, not just pouring them.  From my view, it was going very well.

Then it happened…

A score came out…

92 from the area’s top critic.

The salespeople were, of course, ecstatic.

I was excited as well.  It’s always exciting when someone likes your wines enough to give them a high score and write about them.  I don’t care who you are or where you fall on the 100 point debate. Maybe you love or hate certain critics?  Maybe you think the day of major wine critics are over or if you think they will have influence forever? Regardless of all of this, if you are a winemaker, you want people to like your wines.  A high score is validation that you have done a good enough job to have someone notice and single it out.  As a winemaker who hovers around in the low 90s for a score average, I know how exciting a higher than average score can be.

There is a downside however.

As soon as the score came out, the story shifted from the actual story behind the wine to quoting the critic’s score.  Granted, this could be because I had different people with me every day and maybe these new folks weren’t as well acquainted with the story as those who had stood by my side listening to me repeat my winemaking for several hours.  I am certain they didn’t even realize the shift.  The customers were impressed but at that point I worried that they forget the story behind the wine and only remember the score.  Other consumers though, didn’t know what the score meant.  Others just walked away after that.  We missed a critical opportunity to connect and inspire customers with our story.

So I have a request to all wine sales people and wine merchants.  I don’t mind you telling people the score.  I would probably tell the score myself to the right customer.  Just don’t let it be your lead punch.  Tell the story of the land, the people behind the wines and the care they put into each bottle, the significance of the label design, the time taken to make sure everything is perfect for them, and after all that and ONLY after all that, then bring out the score.

Please.

There is too much that goes into each bottle to distill that hard work and passion down to a score and have the average consumer understand what that means.

Cold Soaks and Color Extraction: My Observations

When the blog “The Wine-o-scope” posted this post, “The value of cold soaks for red winemaking” last week I was intrigued.  Having done extensive phenolic analysis for several years with a few different red varieties, I always like to see what other people are finding.   When I say extensive, I mean extensive.  At my previous job, we would run phenolic analysis by Adams-Harbertson assay every day for EVERY high end red during fermentation.  This was mainly Cabernet Sauvignon but also included Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  We also looked at Pinot Noir just for the fun of it but we determined that the rules that govern phenolic extraction in Bordeaux varieties just don’t apply to Pinot Noir and left that sleeping dog lie.  The timing of anthocyanin and tannin extraction still applies in Pinot Noir but I’ve found through my experience that the best analysis of Pinot Noir is still tasting it frequently.

Here is the reality of things based on real world, non research based experience.  In Bordeaux varieties a cold soak absolutely increases color extraction, particularly with extensive cap management, vs tanks with little to no cold soak.  It does not increase tannin extraction because tannins don’t really start coming into the solution of the wine until a reasonable amount of alcohol has built up.

Take a look at this Cabernet Fermentation below… (My apologies upfront for not being able to figure out how to import an Excel graph into my post).
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You can see that at the point fermentation has started there is already close to 400 ppm of Anthocyanins extracted in the fermentation.  This is after a 6 day cold soak with significant cap management.  You’ll also notice that it is not until day 4 of fermentation (around 15 Brix) that we are able to detect any tannin extraction.  This could be ANY Bordeaux variety fermentation.  They all follow the same pattern.  Just for fun, here is a Merlot graph from the same vintage, same vineyard, and same general area of the vineyard with fermentation starting within a day of the Cab above.

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Aside from noticeably less anthocyanin and tannin content at dryness (because it is Merlot after all) the pattern of extraction is pretty much the same.  Cab Franc is the same pattern as well.

Once one looks at enough of these numbers daily one doesn’t really even need the graph anymore.  You just know what’s going on.

As far as the dangers of cold soak go, yes you do see an increase in other organisms and yes, you do occasionally get the random “wild” fermentation if you push the cold soak over 5 days.  Also, if the fruit is not clean coming in the risk increases so sorting is essential to a clean and healthy cold soak.  Dry Ice is your friend at this point and should be used liberally.

To me the true value of the cold soak is the period you are guaranteed to be extracting color without extracting tannin.  Can you extract the same amount of color without a cold soak?  Of course, but be prepared to have much higher tannin levels at dryness as well since you will be working the cap harder during the time of fermentation when both are extractable.

That’s just my opinion and again, this was not in a research but in real winery experience with no controls.  Take it for what it is worth.

Happy Holidays!

Calistoga Lighted TractorDear Readers, Thank you so much for being loyal readers and for feeling like this blog is awesome enough to read even over the holidays.  I will be taking two weeks off for Christmas and New Year’s to spend time with my family and friends as well as contemplate the upcoming year ahead.  I will be adding new content again weekly starting in January.  Until then feel free to peruse the archives if you scroll all the way down to the bottom and by searching on whichever category you feel is most interesting.  If you would like to be notified directly of all new posts please sign up for my mailing list on the “Contact Me” tab above. Happy Holidays to you all! Nova